Opao. In the distant past, a portion of this barangay was completely devoid of any vegetation. It was located by the sea and at low tide the shoreline would extend close to Mactan Island making the channel appear nothing more than a river. This shoreline, especially at ebb tide, was an expanse of emptiness such that people began to call it “Opao”, meaning “bare”; a useless land where nothing grows, says another source.
But sometime between 1900 and 1950, a number of elites in Mandaue began to make use of Opao’s natural assets. They divided the land among themselves, setting up boundaries. They diked their portions to make way for the fishponds and the saltbeds or asinan. The simple process of making salt was aided by nature. At high tide the dikes were filled to the brim, and when low tide came some of the sea water left were made to dry in the sun, producing salt. These then would be swept by the laborers and ended up in bags.
The old Butuanon River used to pass Opao’s midst in those days. The river’s water, from the mountains of Talamban, Cabancalan, Tingub, and Tabok, finally winded through Opao before it emptied into the sea. But the rains, either in Mandaue or up in the mountains, brought with it floods as the barangay was only a few feet above sea level. Flash floods did occur and these brought fear to its residents.
After the Second World War, from 1947 to 1956, the construction of a diversionary dike. Then Secretary of Public Works Sotero Barte Cabahug saw to its conception and completion. In the past the river ran through Maguikay down to the barrios of Ibabao and Paknaan and down again to the boundary of then sitio of Alang-Alang and barrio Paknaan. Butuanon then turned right to sitio Alang-alang’s interior down to Umapad’s sitio Pilapilan to its stop in the interior of Opao. The plan was to redirect the river’s damaging course so instead of Butuanon turning right as it approached the boundary of sitio Alang-Alang and barrio Paknaan, the river was made to go straight towards Paknaan. The new course was channeled through then uninhabited land, a veritable marshland (pilapil), that was sufficiently above sea level. The natural river course was closed by around 1956 in order for the dike to be opened. From then on Opao was no longer in danger of floods.